Speaking at The Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., Dame Carolyn Fairbairn said that any future UK-US trade deal can only be successful if public trust in trade is rebuilt, and trade is shown to increase investment, opportunities and prosperity in communities across the UK and the USA.
Highlighting the unique commercial ties between the two countries, she outlined three major areas of opportunity in a trade deal – services, small and medium-sized enterprises and engagement with individual states.
Good morning, thank you to the Atlantic Council for welcoming us today. You are doing extraordinary work in the field of international trade and collaboration. It is a privilege to be with you. And to be here at a time of such change for both our countries.
This is the first week outside the E.U. for the U.K. – of which more in a moment – a
And certainly an eventful week in U.S. politics.
And as always, I have been struck in my visit here by the many ties that bind us. Not least your raucous democracy that reminds me of ours.
We don’t have an Iowa caucus, but we have had a very eventful year on the floor of the House of Commons. It may be messy, but it’s democracy in action.
And our shared history is everywhere. This year marks the 400th anniversary year of the Mayflower voyage. when 102 men, women and children left the U.K., for the New World.
Since then, the relationship between our two countries has only grown deeper. With, of course, a pause in the 1700s. When our unquenchable thirst for tea and taxes sparked your fight for independence.
Thankfully, King George is no longer a member of the U.K.’s trade negotiating team!
SHAPING 21st CENTURY TRADE
So today, I’d like to talk about how the U.K. and the U.S. can use these strong ties to take a fresh approach to modern international trade.
And see if together we can help global trade move into forward gear again at a time when it can feel as though it has gone into reverse.
And I do so from the perspective of British business, and of international firms who operate in Britain.
For those of you who don’t know the CBI, we speak for 190k businesses across all sectors in the U.K., employing a third of the private sector workforce.
And our members are both excited and concerned about the current shape of global trade.
We are all familiar with the forces shaping our world — the Atlantic Council has done exceptional work here. Growing protectionist instincts. Rising populism across the West.
An introspective Europe. And, yes, a United States questioning the value of multilateralism in some areas.
We also stand at the foothills of an extraordinary tech revolution. With 80% of tech start-ups now ‘born global’ – with international customers, investors and suppliers from day one.
And – as we’ve seen with Australia’s recent shocking wildfires, the climate crisis is growing.
But while the past is there to learn from. And we must.
The future is ours to shape. Perhaps in trade more than anywhere else.
NEW DECADE, NEW CHAPTER
Of course, the U.K. has had its own recent challenges. You might have wondered where we went for a while. Well, we start this new decade with a new U.K. government.
Their message to the world, and mine to you, is this: The U.K. is ready to get back to business.
Last Friday at 11 pm, the U.K. left the European Union after nearly five decades of membership. This has been an incredibly difficult process, causing rifts in families, communities and inevitably politics.
And it’s been a tough time for business. But the decision is now taken, we can move on. It is a great relief.
And one of the main areas for action will be trade. As a country, we believe profoundly in the benefits of free trade. It is woven into the fabric of our history, with merchants from England selling cloth across the world as far back as the 1200s.
We also remain one of the best places in the world to do business. Ranked in the global top ten for ‘Ease of doing business,’ by the World Bank, and second only to the U.S. in the G7 economies.
With four of the top 10 universities in the world. The global leader in fintech. Known for our innovation and creativity.
And more $1 billion dollar unicorns than any other European country.
From Glasgow to Portsmouth, Belfast to London, Liverpool to Hull, our country has always looked outward for success.
THE NEW RADICALS
And currently, no-one is thinking about trade like the U.K. is. After years seen as the old guard, we are now the new radicals.
So who better to break new ground on trade than we, the new radicals, alongside you, the world’s biggest economy, with whom we share so much?
Yes, we’ve both got challenges. For the U.K., forging a new relationship with the E.U. – still our largest trading partner. Or, in the U.S., strategic competition with China.
But we’re also building on the largest bilateral trade and investment relationship on the planet.
UK-US TRADE AND INVESTMENT
Here in the U.S., British investment supports over one million jobs across every sector, and all 50 states.
At the same time, your investment generates close to 1.5 million UK jobs. And businesses on both sides of the Atlantic recognise the significant political will and ambition to negotiate a free trade agreement between our two governments.
This is very good news. Thousands of British firms see great opportunities to extend our trading relationship. We are huge fans.
But in trade deals, the substance really matters.
So, our request of both negotiating teams will be this – this is a chance for the U.K. and U.S. to show the world how to secure an agreement fit for the future. Let’s set the bar high. Use these trade discussions to design global standards in areas like e-commerce, Artificial Intelligence, FinTech, and the regulation of autonomous vehicles.
For example, on AI – an area that has traditionally not been covered by global trade agreements. The U.K. and the United States have an opportunity to build on the landmark agreement on AI principles at the OECD earlier this year and set new standards on how artificial intelligence can support innovation, trust, human rights and democratic values in both our countries.
And put business at the heart of the policy-making process, bringing our most forward-thinking companies on both sides of the Atlantic together in a new dialogue to advise policymakers on future regulation.
SETTING THE TEMPLATE
Of course, however great our ambition, it’s important to remember that trade deals don’t happen in isolation. Not only is the U.K. starting to negotiate trade deals on its own for the first time in a generation, it also intends to negotiate these deals in parallel – beginning with the E.U. and the United States. Two of the most formidable negotiating partners in the world.
Yes, we know. But we have thought and planned for this. At the CBI, we understand how important the European market is to our members, as well as the many U.S. investors who value seamless access to E.U. markets.
So, we need to work hard to get the best trade deal possible with our European partners. But we feel equally strongly this shouldn’t be seen as an either/or choice: a deal with the E.U. or a deal with the U.S.
If we approach them in the right way, with collaboration and vision, they can and must be complementary. And I can see a future where the U.K. can play a vital role as a leader and a bridge between the world’s two largest trading blocks.
Together, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to secure a trade deal that not only drives growth but also wrestles with the realities of the modern global economy.
We have spent the past year consulting our members on the opportunities they see in a U.S. trade deal. And they are very much about the modern economy.
First, services. There’s huge potential to expand services trade across the Atlantic, particularly through easing skilled migration.
Second, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises. Simplifying customs procedures can make exporting far easier for smaller firms on both sides.
And third, State-level engagement. Many sectors stand to benefit from a closer relationship with individual states and vice versa, whether on procurement or recognition of professional qualifications.
And, in the coming months, the CBI, as the voice of British business, will work with our government to drive progress in all three areas.
REBUILDING TRUST IN TRADE
But if I may, I’d like to end by talking about an issue I feel is too absent from the traditional trade debate and that’s public trust.
Look around the world – people have lost faith in trade. They’re not convinced it delivers the great jobs, lower prices and better lives that politicians promise.
And there’s real power in that scepticism, stalling countless past negotiations. I believe we will only win back the trust of communities if we have the courage to be honest that in a globalised economy – free trade and open markets will sometimes affect jobs.
And the confidence to argue that the right response to this is not to close the door to foreign competition but to invest at home, particularly in skills for the changing world of work to help more people succeed and share in rising prosperity.
This is a challenge we share and can tackle together. There are so many examples of where trade can transform communities.
Like the Welsh founders of Penderyn whisky – who were inspired by two pioneering US distillers with their own links to Wales, Jack Daniels and Evan Williams.
Named after the small village where their distillery is based, Penderyn has grown into a world-leading whisky brand, exporting to the U.S., China, and elsewhere.
Today, Penderyn supports hundreds of jobs – in a region once dominated by heavy industry. Just one example of the powerful community impact global trade can have.
We need to tell these stories and make them feel local, real and, above all, human.
The good thing is that the answers lie in our hands. I am an optimist for global trade and believe business has a profound role to play.
As providers of evidence, yes.
As vocal champions for trade, yes.
But most important of all, in seizing the benefits of trade to transform lives. We know there will be hard trade-offs ahead – I have deliberately not mentioned food, or healthcare, for example. There will be plenty of time for that – perhaps even in questions in a few moments.
But let’s start with a sense of ambition on what the U.K. and U.S. can achieve together. We the new radicals on the block, and you, the largest economy in the world with whom we already share so much.